There are actually multiple sub-species of Brown Bear in North America – Grizzly Bears and Coastal Brown Bears.
They are very similar, and usually get lumped together and simply called “Grizzlies” in most instances. All Grizzlies are Brown Bears, but not not all Brown Bears are Grizzlies, if that makes sense?
Scientifically speaking, subtle differences in their lifestyles and evolutionary histories are distinct enough that that Coastal Brown Bears and Grizzly Bears are considered ecologically distinct sub-species.
Those distinctions are related to the regions the bears inhabit.Bears found inland are Grizzly Bears, while bears inhabiting coastal areas of Alaska and Canada are known as Coastal Brown Bears.
Grizzlies inhabit dense forests, alpine meadows, and high mountain valleys. They have a different diet and physical appearance than their coastal counterparts. Grizzlies are the bears in places like Yellowstone and Denali National Parks. They forage for plants, berries, and nuts. Although they do occasionally grab a trout from a mountain stream, they actually eat more worms, moths, beetle grubs, and ants. They also scavenge other dead animals and opportunistically hunt deer fawns and elk and bison calves.
Coastal Brown Bears on the other hand eat a diet made up mostly of fatty, nutrient rich salmon. Thats why the protein packed Coastal Brown Bears in Alaska and Canada are the largest species of Brown Bear in the entire world. In addition to salmon, they also eat vegetation, roots, and berries along the shoreline. They’re also known to dig up clams, crack them open, and suck them down.
Brown Bears on the shores of Alaska have been known to grow well over 1,200-pounds thanks to their salmon heavy diets. Grizzlies on the other hand tend to top out at around 600 – 800 pounds.
Because of competition for resources, larger home ranges, and a less abundant food supply, Grizzlies are far more aggressive towards people and other bears.
Coastal Brown Bears tend to be more laid back, especially this time of year when the Salmon runs provide the bears with more delicious fish than they could ever possibly eat. With such an abundant supply of food, the bears frequently gather in large numbers at pinch points on rivers where the running salmon are the easiest to snag from the water.
The Salmon runs in Alaska typically kicks off in mid-July and run and into mid-September. It’s the best time to observe Brown Bears in the wild, as most of their time is spent fishing for and feasting on salmon along Alaska’s iconic gravel lined river beds.
Most of what the Bears eat are either CoHo or Sockeye Salmon.
Alaska’s Katmai National Park is the best place in the world to watch Brown Bears fishing for Salmon. While it’s a place every nature lover should add to their bucket list, you can actually watch a live webcam of a waterfall on the Brooks River where bears typically congregate to fish.
And if the live action is a little slow, you can always watch this incredible footage that features 17 different bears happily fishing in the same area at once.
While most bears do their fishing in the shallows, some of them are known to actually dive to the deeper depths of the river to catch their fish.
This underwater footage of a mama bear diving for salmon to feed her cubs is some of the most spectacular nature videography ever.